Resource 4: The cultural game of Africa

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

This game has many names, for example:

  • Moruba (also maruba) by the Pedi of South Africa
  • Kpo by Vai people of Sierra Leone and Liberia
  • Ajua by Luo in Kenya
  • Omweso by Ganda of Uganda
  • Bao by Swahili in East Africa
  • Gambatta in Ethiopia
  • Ayo by Yoruba in Nigeria
  • Oware by Igbo in Nigeria
  • Warri by Asante in Ghana
The game board

In the past, boards for playing the game have been made from beautifully carved wood, bronze (in the royal court of Benin, Nigeria) or gold (by the Asante Kings in Ghana). Now there are less elaborate versions available and you can make your own using a piece of cardboard and drawing the required number of circles.


The size of the game board depends on the number of players. Most common is a board which consists of four rows of eight holes (mekoti) each, but there are old photos which show boards that had up to 16 holes per row. The holes are dug into the earth. The counters are usually pebbles called mathlapa (‘cattle’).

Initial position

Each player only uses his/her side of the board, which consists of two rows.

At his/her turn, a player takes the contents of one of his/her holes, which must contain at least two stones, and distributes them, one by one, counterclockwise into consecutive holes on his/her own side.

If the last stone falls into a non-empty hole, its contents are distributed in another lap in the same direction.

The move ends when the last stone is dropped into an empty hole.

If the last stone is put into an empty hole of the inner row and the opposite hole of the opponent contains stones, these enemy stones are ‘killed’ (tlaba). Additionally, the stones of the outer hole directly behind it are ‘captured’ (tlola) and the contents of any other enemy hole. The killed or captured stones of the opponent are removed from the board.

When a player has only singletons, he/she is permitted to move them, but only in empty holes.

The player who has still stones at the end of the game is declared the winner, while the other player who has no stones left, has lost. Draws are not possible.

Resource 3: Table to record numeracy skills